I received a concerned text from a friend the other day, it read: ”What did Andy Warhol do wrong? I saw a group of people demonstrating against him on the Bowery.” Folks downtown will be surprised, amused, or confused – depending on what they see – if they catch snippets of “Chasing Andy Warhol.” Bated Breath Theatre Company’s new play takes place between Astor Place and Houston Street. My friend happened to walk past when Valerie Solanas, played by Alessandra Ruiz, led a march where she rallied participants to chant against Warhol.
The storyline follows a fan who, in the play’s first scene, boards a plane to New York in search of Andy Warhol. Warhol, the artist who hailed from Pittsburg, had an illustrious career becoming the figurehead for pop art. During his lifetime he rubbed shoulders with celebrities and aristocracy and created stars out of common folk. At auctions, his works continue to break records. “Chasing Andy Warhol” does not go into that much detail, it is more of a vibe. For most of the show, Warhol is elusive and conflicted and, on the move, away from his adoring fan. The fan, an annoyingly positive rather naive, and star-struck character is energetically played by Annika Rudolph. She also serves as our tour guide. Carrying a boom box she provides the soundtracks that further enliven the experience. As we walked through scenes from Warhol’s life – his friendship with Edie Sedgwick that comes to an abrupt end – his fan becomes increasingly weary.
Sedgwick starred in eighteen films by Andy Warhol before their friendship ended in 1965. A photograph by David McCabe shows Warhol and Sedgwick standing on a ladder with their arms intertwined and outstretched. This image is reproduced by the actors on Cooper Square. After Sedgwick exits Warhol’s life, we are met by Solanas. She joins us as we are walking down Bowery. She is carrying a flag and talks to us about her SCUM Manifesto and a play that she wants Warhol to produce. Solanas is the character that we learn the most about and Ruiz does a spectacular job of making her personable and real. It felt like I had met the radical feminist in the flesh.
Bated Breath Theatre Company made headlines with “Voyeur: The Windows of Toulouse-Lautrec” for being the longest-running pandemic-friendly theater. Thus keeping audiences entertained as the theater was paused across the nation. In 2021 “Voyeur” was awarded BroadwayWorld, Off-Broadway Awards for Best Play, Best New Production, and named Mara Lieberman best director. With “Chasing Andy” the company is further pushing the boundaries for this live outdoor experimental theater form.
The costumes were superb: bright colors and necessarily a bit out of place. Using props, music, characters, and puppeteering, director Mara Lieberman brings Warhol’s essence to life. A sad scene with Warhol as a puppet tells of his illness as a child. Another, which takes place in a storefront, illustrates his interest in photography. A talk show. Paparazzi. Perhaps a nod to Warhol’s obsession with seriality, or his narcissism, one scene on Cooper Triangle brought a handful of Warhol characters into focus – biking and jogging past and in pairs. Lieberman has fit in a lot in the run time. The show takes a darker turn when Solanas shots Warhol – with a banana! – and two nurses ask the audience for help as they rush down the street for surgery.
Uncannily, the “Chasing Andy Warhol” brings attention to the surrounding allowing the built environment and what takes place within it to take center stage. The nebulous term “immersive” may be over-used but it describes this particular experience so well. On a stage, the director has full control over the set, in public space, however, the surroundings can be enhanced or manipulated by props, but not erased. Following on the heels of Warhol and Sedgwick walking with their arms around each other, I noticed a man on a skateboard. He would have fit in nicely in 1960s New York. As it turned out he just whizzed past and was not an actor in the play. Throughout it is equally fun to see fellow participants and passers-by react to the comical scenes that unfold. I was struck by how the real and surreal collided on the streets.
Dialog is not emphasized; it would be hard to focus on elaborate dialog moving through New York’s busy streets. Lieberman has however managed to vibrantly pierce the fabric of East Village as her actors and dancers appear unexpectedly in stark contrast to their environment. Where “Chasing Andy Warhol” shines is in these movements.
“Chasing Andy Warhol” runs six performances each Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. Advance tickets are $80, or, visit the box office at 4 PM to acquire $25 same-day tickets.
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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is editor-in-chief and founder of Cultbytes. She mediates art through writing, curating, and lecturing. Her latest books are Assuming Asymmetries: Conversations on Curating Public Art Projects of the 1980s and 1990s and Curating Beyond the Mainstream. Send your inquiries, tips, and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.